Underbelly Britain: Kelvin Undercover
Our intrepid editor, Kelvin Knox, travels to the post-industrial north to see for himself the devastation that years of neglect and underfunding has caused. What he found was something far uglier than he bargained for.
It was a frosty December morning, the kind where you regret not fishing your gloves out from the bottom of the sock drawer. Standing under a flickering lamppost on a Victorian cobbled street, l stood, blowing clouds of condensation into the air. Pushing my glasses further up my nose, I checked my watch in frustration.
‘Where ARE those damn urchins?’ I thought to myself while stamping my feet for warmth.
They march to a different rhythm in The North. Time is a suggestion rather than a scientific certainty. This is precisely why their property prices are significantly below the South-Eastern average. But nonetheless, I have been left waiting over an hour to meet my contact, a fifteen-year-old drug dealer named Jaidon.
After an eternity standing in this post-industrial wasteland of Matlock, Derbyshire, a squeak of bicycle brakes emerged from the direction of the blinding winter dawn. I shielded my eyes and squinted towards the young street punk on his BMX, clothed head to toe in dull grey. The boy skidded in front of me, almost scuffing my £700 Loakes loafers.
The boy peeled off the hood of his North Face puffer jacket and grunted, ‘You Melvin? Melvin Cox?’ (I was using a nom de guerre.)
‘Why yes, indeed I am. I presume you are Jaidon?’ I said, observing the tram lines shaved skew-whiff above his grubby ears.
‘I’ve been told to give you this.’
Young Jaidon reached into the depths of his jacket and pulled out a scruffy piece of A4 paper. It was a hand drawn map. Bingo! This was my ticket to the dark underbelly of Broken Britain.
I went back to my b&b where the hostess, a not unattractive fifty-something divorcee greeted me in the reception room. Her opal green eyes looked me up and down with concern.
‘Cor, you look like an ice lolly. Come here.’
She rubbed my shoulders to get some circulation back into my icy veins. And let me tell you, a certain collection of veins in my midriff swelled with hot blood.
‘Look at the state of you!’ she said. ‘Let me run you a hot steamy bath.’
‘I’m in a bit of a rush,’ I protested. ‘I have a date, you see. A date with Broken Britain.’
‘Shame.’ She looked me up and down again while biting her index finger. ‘I might have joined you, m’duck.’
Roughly four hours later, refreshed and with a renewed sense of purpose, I set out for my secret destination. It was in the rubble of an ex-cotton mill, one of the thousands of mills that blight the Northern landscape.
As I picked through the twisted iron and mossy red bricks, I paused to take in the scene. This was where it all began, you see. In this small Northern town, a Promethean spark was lit, and it illuminated planet earth. This spot, under my feet, was the ground zero of the Industrial Revolution. Here, a kindly benefactor by the name of Richard Arkwright set up a factory to give employment to young orphans and down-on-their-luck spinsters.
But this wasn’t just any factory. This was the first. The very beginning of the modern world. In the late eighteenth-century, where I was standing, it would have been a heaving, bustling scene. To my left, horse-drawn carts carrying coal and iron, to my right, the serried ranks of clog wearing northerners, shuffling to a jolly tune (the kind that would launch George Formby to international fame a century and a half later). The smell of sulphur and horse shit would have teased the nostrils as one fought their way through the hot, smoky fug.
According to the mad poet, William Blake, it was hell on earth. A land of Dark Satanic Mills and giant beasts scooping up children into their salivating maws. But nothing could be further from the truth. GDP would skyrocket thanks to these factories, which would enable these deeply superstitious peasants to become, relatively speaking, urbane sophisticates thanks to the entrepreneurial drive of their employers.
But in the present day, all that had crumbled to dust. The average northerner had now reverted to type. Rather than folk tales around the public house fire, quaffing ale and munching on Barnsley bean sheaths, they now do the modern equivalent by drinking ghastly Blue WKDs around the bingo hall table, munching on the pockets of hot pink sludge provided by Gregg’s the bakers.
After a short wait in the rubble, the low din of a Reliant Robin broke the silence. As the lime green motor pulled up, I took a defensive judo stance, just in case trouble was afoot. The black tinted window to the car rolled down, and the fat head of Early Jizz (real name, Michael) popped out.
‘Y’allreet m’duck. I hear yus looking foo-er a gang to hang around fer one o’ them fancy Sunday supplement features.’
‘That is indeed the case,’ I said, still on my guard. These people are cunning little fellows.
‘Well, yers come ter the reet people. Ahll show yer real Britain. A Britain that’ll put hairs on yer chest m’duck.’
I did an internal fist pump and thanked the heavens that Early Jizz had landed, heaven sent, at my feet.
That evening, I made my way to an abandoned cotton mill amidst the soot and dank of The post-industrial North. From the outside, it looked like any dilapidated brick building, with chipboard windows and graffito penises adorning the walls. But as I walked closer, a hum emanated from the building. An electric murmur of fear, excitement, and lust pulsated from the bolted doorway. With a little trepidation, I rapped my knuckles on the door. Looking down, I noticed the light stream from under the door and onto my expensive shoes. I wondered if I should have worn those ghastly Nike sneakers with air compartments.
Crack. Creek. Snoooork. The door opened a smidgen and a swivelling bloodshot eye looked me up and down.
I cleared my throat and uttered the phrase, ‘Fake taxi.’
The door flung open as if by itself and I stepped over the threshold. I was immediately hit by the intoxicating iron smell of blood and sour sweat. I was then hit by the roar of over two hundred heavy set men waving their limbs excitedly into the air. As I stepped closer, I could see they were standing around a mud pit. As I craned my neck over the throng, my Adam’s apple fell through my stomach. What I saw will stay with me till the day that I die.
Knowing if I shrieked or showed any kind of weakness, these men would possibly tear me limb from limb. So rather than shrink from the scene, I pushed my way forward and placed myself front and centre at this obscene spectacle.
Below me, in the depths of the pit, were two gigantic farm boys naked as the day but for a pair of Slazenger trainers and white socks. And amongst them, a stallion with a two-foot-long erection. The men were running for their lives as the baying crowd shouted spittle flecked insults at them. A flurry of hands exchanged £20 notes with a group of bookmakers secreted within the throng. One such man approached me and gave me evens on Ronnie Pritchard ‘taking the meat’. Despite my horror at the spectacle, I found my hand involuntarily reach into my jacket pocket and hand over £4,000. The bookie tore off a slip from his pad and moved onto the next mug. What the hell had I done?
A huge roar erupted as Ronnie Pritchard fell to his knees, kicked in the back of the legs by his opponent. As the randy stallion approached, I tried to avert my gaze. Vomit travelled up my gullet as the horse penetrated the poor fellow. But before I could faint, the bookmaker returned my £4,000 along with another £4,000. My sickness turned into an intense, primal joy. I roared along with the crowd as the horse wranglers pulled the animal from the limp Ronnie Pritchard, who if I didn’t know any better, had a huge smirk on his face.
‘Cor, yer lucky begger,’ came a voice from behind me. I turned to see Early Jizz look in awe at the fat wodge of filthy lucre in my hand. ‘I had a ton on the other guy. Ronnie has never taken the meat in over a dozen bouts. Bloody hell.’
I didn’t know whether to hit Early Jizz or kiss him for introducing me to this obscene spectacle. But before I had a chance to say anything, the crowd forced us back to the pit. It was time for the next match. Big Ben McBastard vs Eddie Cunt in a viper match. Early Jizz explained the rules to me. Each man was given a viper (in this case, African puff adders), and were to inflict deadly bites on the other. Suspended above the pit was a vial of antidote to the venom. Once both men were bitten, two ladders would be thrown into the arena, and the first to get to the antidote would win.
Despite my disgust, I made my way to the Queen ElizaBET vendor and laid a £1,000 stake on Eddie Cunt. When in Rome was very much my thinking…
As I handed over the money, a strange feeling enveloped me. It was as if a hundred eyes were piercing my back with sharp ice picks. My gaze darted around the hushed room, and indeed, the throng of men were staring directly at me, many with sardonic grins. Early Jizz, my host, stepped forward clapping his hands.
‘Let’s hear it for Melvin Cox here, gentlemen…or should I say…KELVIN KNOX.’
I am not ashamed to say, at this very moment, my arsehole blew out black smoke. I was truly done for.
‘That’s reet folks. This guy is no’ one of us. He’s actually one of the brightest and best thought leaders in the land. This guy is headed for the Nobel Prize, and now he’s all ours…’
With that, the crowd jostled me into the pit. With shallow breaths, I tried to gain my bearings. It felt like my eardrums were punctured by the angry cries of the men. But I didn’t have time to think, because right in front of me were Big Ben McBastard and Eddie Cunt gripping their angry spitting snakes. Both grinned as they edged closer to me, the vipers snapping towards my face.
As I backed my way against the pit wall, I felt a sticky mixture of warm beer and hot urine stream down my back. A pulse of adrenaline surged through my body. It was fight or flight time, and let me tell you, there was no place to fly. Not in this pit full of blood and animal faeces.
Eddie Cunt lunged for me with his angry snake and I slut dropped to the floor. Then, like a coiled spring, I did my patented high kick – a manoeuvre taught to me by none other than Wayne Sleep.
My expensive loafer connected with Cunt’s chin and sent him flying across the pit. McBastard hesitated for a second, looking at his brother in arms. But this only seemed to make him angrier. McBastard held his arm aloft and started swinging his long snake around his head. With each pass, I ducked and dived, trying not to hurt the magnificent creature. I had no truck with this beast. But nonetheless, my life was in grave danger. As the viper made its next pass, I snatched the creatures and wrapped it around my arm. Then I tugged at the snake with all my might.
McBastard put up some mighty resistance, but my superior balance and poise won out, and the giant came tumbling towards me. This was my moment. I let out a primal scream and roundhouse kicked the ogre in the head with all my might. CRACK. The crowd let out an audible gasp as I fractured McBastard’s skull.
I looked up at Early Jizz and shouted ‘Is that all you’ve got? IS IT?’ What is it they say about famous last words? Jizz snapped his fingers and from the side of the pit a hidden door opened. From it leaped the biggest panther I’ve ever seen. And it was hungry. Before I knew what the hell was happening, its jaws clamped down onto my groin.
My vision began to fade. The last thing I remember was grabbing at the dirt below me, clinging desperately for anything. Life?
From the hospital bed, a jocular policeman stood over me laughing and tutting at the same time.
‘You’ve had a lucky escape, boyo.’
Lucky escape? Oh christ. It wasn’t a nightmare.
‘Thanks to your hidden camera and SuperGRASS 2000 GPS system, we were able to pinpoint the elusive human/animal fighting syndicate and arrest the lot of them. Kelvin, you are perhaps this country’s greatest ever undercover informant.’
I looked up to the officer with tears in my eyes. ‘Thank you,’ I said with genuine earnestness. ‘Not only did I do it for the animals, I did it for Her Majesty The Queen too, and long may she reign.’
The policeman clicked his heels together and saluted at the mention of Her Majesty.
What a journey I had been on. A journey into hell. The Labour Party lost this untamed hellscape full of brigands and ne’erdowells in 2019, and after this little sojourn, I wonder whether it’s worth trying to win it back. If I were Sir Keir Starmer, I would stick to the south. The Beautiful South, as it were. Civilisation. A land without groin eating panthers. Let the Tories have the Red Wall. They’re welcome to it.